It’s Time to Rethink the Traditional RFP Process

By Tom Schoen, CEO

As we all work to serve our customers and employees in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can use this time for new opportunities. Some of the most strategic companies focus on internal transformation and seek out new technology that puts them in a stronger position as they emerge from downtimes.

If you choose to move forward with an Oracle Retail or NetSuite project, selecting the best system integrator (SI) or Alliance Partner is one of the most important decisions you can make. The Partner typically holds the role of project advisor, or they may be the team responsible for project delivery. The choice of your Partner should be made with the same amount of care you put into choosing your technology stack.

As Oracle and NetSuite technologies have evolved into more complex and comprehensive systems that impact nearly every area of an organization, so too have the expectations and skillsets of implementation/integration Partners.

However, the RFP process for choosing a Partner has lagged considerably. In general, an organization’s RFP process for finding a Partner hasn’t evolved with the reality of the times. As a result, they risk not finding the best partner for their project.

Here at BTM, we’ve been through hundreds of RFP processes in our nearly 20 years of experience. The following are a few things I encourage retailers, manufacturers, and any company to rethink if they want to objectively find the best Partner for their Oracle or NetSuite project.

Manage the RFP Process Yourself

It’s not uncommon to hire an outside consultant to manage the RFP process. At first glance, it seems to be an efficient way for a client to outsource the effort to someone who’s done it before.

The problem is that most consultancies have special relationships with certain implementation Partners, and those relationships can influence who responds to the RFP. This usually isn’t a deliberate decision on the consultant’s part; it’s just a simple fact that they have closer relationships with some companies more than others and will think of them first when searching for respondents. But as the client, you want the best options to choose from – not just those who know the RFP consultant.

To get a more objective suite of candidates, try to manage the RFP process with an internal team. Talk with Oracle or NetSuite so you have a good understanding of the project scope, put together your list of requirements, and start the search for the right fit. Ask Oracle and NetSuite for referrals, or contact other companies that have implemented the same solution that you have and ask about their Partners. If you have to choose a consultant for the RFP process, make sure to provide governance of the process, ask questions about their process, and understand why certain Partners were chosen to respond.


Separate the Product Search from the Partner Search  

This recommendation might be a bit controversial, but I believe a company will find the best implementation Partner for their needs if they separate the Partner search from the technology search. In other words, choose your Partner yourself rather than asking your tech provider to do it for you. Only you can decide whose skillset and culture are the best fit for your team.

If the tech provider suggests an implementation company for your project, consider going through a vetting process anyway. If you are owned by a VC firm that has its own partners, also go through a vetting process with other choices if you can. This process would include meeting with potential partners, getting a good understanding of their team’s background and experience, and, if possible, visiting the Partner’s offices to assess their leadership and culture. Learn about the company’s ownership structure and how it’s run, and how much “skin in the game” they have in the success of your project. In other words, is your work significant to them or will you feel like a cog in the wheel?

Please, Please Stop Sharing RFP Answers

For most RFPs, it’s common practice to share respondents’ answers with all other RFP respondents. I’m not sure why this is considered a best practice; it shouldn’t be. It does not serve the company issuing the RFP.

An implementation Partner should be asking detailed questions to help formulate the best approach to the client project. When those detailed questions are shared with competitors, it alerts the competitors to the respondent’s thinking or intention. Therefore, it’s a total disincentive for a potential Partner to ask very specific questions because they are worried that the competition will figure out their approach and use it. The result is that the responding Partner ends up making assumptions about a project rather than risk exposing their approach to a competitor.

On the other hand, if the questions are not shared with everyone (ideally, an NDA is in place before the respondents get the RFP), the responding Partners can request more details in order to put together a more specific proposal; they can provide data to the best of their ability without fear of giving things away. For the client, this means they can tell which of the respondents really knows their stuff.

Go Beyond the Partner’s References

Very few companies evaluate the services that an implementation Partner says they offer. Some Partners have a lot of contractors that can do many different tasks, while others bring in partners to fill in the gaps. Regardless of their size and approach, ask your potential implementation Partner how long they’ve offered their services.

In addition, do your homework when it comes to references. Don’t only use the references that the implementation Partner gives you: those are always going to be stellar referrals! Instead, ask your peers if they have worked with the Partner or ask Oracle Retail/NetSuite for a list of clients that have worked with the company. Then, contact those clients. Here at BTM, we had a prospective client do just that: They called our past clients and we didn’t even know they were considering us for a project! But this sort of detective work will reveal an unvarnished look at what the potential Partner does well and where it falls short.

Rethink the RFP Process

Many areas of our lives and industry look different right now, and it’s time to rethink business as usual. When searching for an implementation Partner, it’s in your best interest to review your assumptions about the RFP process. Create a process that can better reveal the strengths and weaknesses of your potential Partner, and set up your entire project for success.